by Manu SharmaMay 11, 2021
When the British data scientist Clive Robert Humby drew an analogy between data and oil with his phrase ‘data is the new oil’, he implicitly referred to the importance of distillation required to use them both. The consumerist demand of data, more often than not, is popularly used in the capitalist set-up for a variety of political and financial successes. The accumulative data offers a scope to define the human behavioural pattern of a society which, besides promising immediate profits, opens a window to the dynamics of individual behaviour. Straddling the field of arts and data are the works of the visual artist Stephanie Potter Corwin that explore the nuances of contemporary human behaviour.
The California-based artist Corwin’s work Murmurations, shortlisted for the 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize, is created with a bespoke algorithmic process that combines more than ten thousand selfies shot in front of the Paul Smith boutique in Los Angeles. Against the backdrop of bright hues of pink, the images create a distorted view, leaving the audience dazzled. Inspired by the flocking patterns found in nature, Murmurations emphasise the loss of singularity against the plethora of data, in this case, the identical practice of selfies. Corwin, in an interview with STIR, explains the descent of isolation despite virtual connectivity and presence of data in her works, “Data—particularly data about human behaviour—is usually referenced as a capitalist commodity or a sign of inevitable dystopia. However, in my work, I am interested in using data as a tool for hopeful optimism: as a reminder that we are not alone but that we are part of a world that is better when we recognise our commonalities. This is how Murmurations was born: I was interested in exploring how the ultimate act of individualism—the selfie—was, in fact, part of a much larger pattern of human behaviour. When exposed, these patterns reveal another layer of beauty that lies within the human condition”.
To give a visual form to the palette of emotions, an array of emojis were developed as a part of text conversations. Undeniably they have the potential to either change or enhance the meaning of words. Similarly, the series Year X traces the usage of emojis as “relationship maintenance tools”. The series highlights the text messages data shared between two individuals, albeit without words but emojis. The particular stylistic use of emojis is highlighted even though the persons’ disposition is not even obliquely referred to. The omnipresence of technology is inevitable in the world of arts; Corwin delves further into this, “It has become crucial to our existence, and it influences so much about how we encounter the world, the opportunities we have, and the choices we make. It is only natural to try and unpack the effects of technology. I am not sure if the future of visual arts relies solely on the integration of art+technology, but I think that digital tools and mediums are here to stay. As the world continues to exponentially progress, the acts of making and experiencing art will evolve”.
The notions of the spatial and temporal have been long-established interests for creative minds across disciplines. Allowing a visual manifestation of the sonic journey and physical location is Corwin’s work, Circadian Echoes. The specific echoes from the open sky at a particular day and location are documented with colour. Using a dye-sublimation process, these are printed on aluminium that emanates a sense of interplay with perception and reality. Circadian Echoes functions as a formal record of time and place.
Corwin hopes her works, laden with distilled data represented in a creative form, “reveal hidden narratives—to offer people a new vantage point for observing and synthesising the world. Data collection will only expand, and there's a risk of disassociating one's humanity from their quantified behaviour. In my work, I want to expose the patterns of behaviour, choice, and interaction that, when uncovered, reflect our incredible, intertwined trajectories, revealing the humans behind the numbers, engendering empathy, and reminding people that they are not alone”.
In a society when the count of followers set the course of discussion on the strengthening of bonds, one can propose that the grip on reality is shaking. Corwin’s works, instead of running a dried discussion on perils of uncharted data, lend a human touch to it in an effort to raise a plea to rescue the humans from falling into the abyss of the whitewashed version of the truth.